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'Eleven Hours' Follows Two Soon-To-Be Moms In The Course Of One Labor

On this Mother's Day, here's a bit of wisdom: "Having a child is usually just a long patience."

Those words are spoken by a nurse in the new novel Eleven Hours. Her name is Franckline and she works in a hospital maternity ward. That long patience she's talking about is the patience a woman needs when she's in labor — the patience to ride through hours of pain and worry.

Eleven Hours takes place in the course of one woman's labor and is told from two perspectives: that of the woman giving birth, Lore, and that of Franckline, who is herself pregnant. Author Pamela Erens tells NPR's Melissa Block that she chose to restrict the book to 11 hours of labor as a way to give herself parameters.

"Writing fiction is so overwhelming to me and the more constraints I can give myself the better," she says.

Interview Highlights

On Franckline's story

She was born in Haiti and when she was a teenager she had a child. She did not have a partner and that was frowned upon by her family, which was religious and had a strict moral code. And she lost that child after three days — it was born, but it was sickly. And she was quite traumatized by this, and traumatized by the rejection of her family. And she runs away and eventually she makes her way to America, where she trains as a nurse.

On the relationship between Franckline and Lore

[Franckline] necessarily had to be a helper type because my other character, Lore, is so desperately in need of help and I felt that if Franckline didn't step into that role for her there really wouldn't be a story, there wouldn't be an intense relationship between the two of them. So she naturally had to evolve into that person who could support this very difficult patient — a patient that's not making it easy to help her.

On Lore, who arrives at the hospital with a detailed birth plan, but no partner or family

Lore's birth plan is a little bit of an inside joke. I was a little bit that person who came in with the incredibly detailed birth plan because I had a great many fears about having a child and I read an enormous amount, which is my way of dealing with anxiety. And so I made up this incredibly detailed plan.

I knew how it was going to end. That said, I'm not even sure I know exactly what's going to happen after the last page. ... I think when you have a new child, the future is ambiguous.

But in terms of the character, Lore is someone who's been traumatized to some extent by some things that have happened to her and I suppose I envisioned this as her way of trying to have control over what she can have control over.

On the book's ambiguous ending

I knew how it was going to end. That said, I'm not even sure I know exactly what's going to happen after the last page. But I knew what would be those last pages. ... I think when you have a new child, the future is ambiguous. You don't know what's going to happen to that child. The healthiest, most robust child — anything could happen six months from now or a year from now; and children have their own totally unforeseeable personalities and lives that they grow into. And I just felt that was true to the experience of a new birth.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff